Arthritis drug shown to affect alopecia

The treatment may have cosmetic applications, as Patricia Mansfield-Devine reports

Panel a – before treatment; Panel b – 2 months into treatment with tofacitinib; Panel c – 5 months into treatment; Panel d – 8 months into treatment (Image: Yale Dermatology)

Researchers at Yale university have used the arthritis drug tofacitinib citrate to successfully treat alopecia universalis, a disease that can cause all of a person’s hair to fall out. They are now hoping to test a topical application for use only on affected areas.

The researchers treated 25 year old Kyle Rhodes, who had been diagnosed with the disease at the age of two and lost all his body hair by the age of 18. Rhodes also suffered from plaque psoriasis, a disease which causes scaly red areas of skin and was referred to Yale Dermatology for treatment of the skin condition – the alopecia had never been treated. Since the hair loss was caused by an autoimmune disease, Dr Brett King at Yale decided to treat Rhodes with tofacitinib citrate (brand name Xeljanz), which is used to treat another autoimmune disease – rheumatoid arthritis. Eight months later, Rhodes had a full head of hair. His eyebrows and eyelashes also grew back, as did the rest of the hair on his body.

Although other scientists have emphasised that alopecia universalis is unrelated to male pattern baldness and that the treatment is therefore unsuited to cosmetic applications, as well as having possibly dangerous side effects, King told news network CNN that he thought conducting more research was worth a try.

“To not imagine it would be crazy,” he said. “The possibility should be imagined and should be investigated.”

Patricia Mansfield-Devine, Rennes